Sunday, July 13, 2014

A High Sierra Sampler - July 2014 - Part Four

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Wednesday morning was different. Yes, were heading out again on a hike into the High Sierra, but from a different trailhead. This necessitated us dropping the top of the camper and taking the truck, and since we were doing that, we decided we'd camp someplace new Wednesday night. Today's start would be the trailhead at South Reservoir on Bishop Creek's South Fork. It was just a few miles of driving. The place was packed. The large overnight backpackers' parking lot was completely full early in the morning. New arriving backpackers were disregarding the sign that said, "Additional Overnight Parking 1.2 Miles Down the Road," and parking in the day use only area. Here each parking space was individually signed, "No Overnight Parking." This place gets a lot of heavy use.

We had a legal place to park. The boots were on. The packs were ready and we were on our way, once more "Into the Johnny Muir!"

The first mile or so of trail was quite crowded; all sorts of groups and all sorts of group dynamics. We noticed a group made up of two families with young children. We hoped they were doing this right and making this a delightful outing with only a short backpack in to a nice spot with a view with something for everyone to do and enjoy from a base camp, not an endless death march. We caught up with them at the first spot with a view ahead. A father was kneeled down to be close to his son. The father pointed out the land features and asked his son, "Now where do you think Long Lake should be?" This little snippet was worth its weight in gold.

Long Lake was right where the son pointed.

Just past Long Lake we came upon our first and only pika in the Sierra. We had not even heard one of their distinctive squeaks.

Muriel Lake and the Piute Lake area had an abundance of whistle pigs - marmots. There were a few golden mantled ground squirrels. The Long Lake area had a maternal colony of Belding Ground Squirrels with many young ones cautiously on their haunches watching us. Birds were most represented by Clarks Nutcrackers. We saw no deer. We saw not one raptor or raven. It seemed surprisingly devoid of wildlife.

There is elevation gain involved getting from Long Lake up to Timberline Tarns.

We stopped for a break. The Lady kept us found........................................

.........................................and I looked for trout.

A hop, skip, and a jump and we were soon hiking along Saddlerock Lake.

At the head of the canyon are wetlands and shallow tarns. In areas like this I watch for amphibians. I saw none.

The trail continued to climb (of course!) up to the rock filled gully that marks the start of the South Fork of Bishop Creek.

As the terrain steepens, the trail meanders through the rubble. The trail work here is amazing. The trail bed has been hand filled with fist sized cobble making for relatively easy hiking.

The trail hits a rock face and up it goes in a marvelous series of back and forth short switch backs.

The views became amazing as we gained elevation. This was great fun!

The crowds had thinned out before we had even reached Long Lake. Here the music of the wind, the music of water running deep down somewhere beneath all these rocks nourished any need we had for sound.

We reached the top of the ridge......................................................

...........................................but not the Sierra Crest and Bishop Pass. The ridge led to the crest. There was still some hiking to be done.

And then we were there.

Two names you have probably never heard, David Steeves and Clint Hester.

Clint Hester's son was a brave young copilot, anxious to do his part, serve his country, and join all the men fighting in World War Two. On a training mission on December 5, 1943, he and his B-24 bomber disappeared. For seventeen summers Mr. Hester combed the Sierra Nevada looking for his lost son. A year after Clint Hester's death, wreckage was found in an unnamed high Sierra lake. His son, his crewmates, and plane had finally been found. Take this trail down from Bishop Pass, through Dusy Basin, into the knee jarring depths of Le Conte Canyon. From there head cross country up the other side. Ascend a steep rocky gully to a hanging treeless basin and find what is now named Hester Lake in honor of the father who wanted to find his son. It is said the lake is deep, too deep to see the bomber resting in its depths.

Several years ago the Lady & I were in a special for the History Channel, BrokenWings. The host, Pat Macha told the stories of three historic military aircraft wrecks. One was the story of Lt. David Steeves. Piloting his Air Force T-33 jet on May 9, 1957 a malfunction occurred and he made the decision to eject. This was another disappearance story. He was declared dead. In an extraordinary feat of survival, injured, he crawled out of the high Sierra and was found by a stock packer 52 days later. He was lauded a hero. He was a celebrity. A book deal was in the works. Problem was, his plane could not be found. At the height of the cold war, rumors grew that he was a spy, it was all staged, he had given the jet to the USSR. His military career and marriage crumbled. Steeves died in 1965. In 1977 a group of boy scouts from Los Angeles discovered a T-33 canopy in Dusy Basin. It bore the serial number of Steeves' plane.

The wind was cold up on Bishop Pass. We climbed off trail to a high point. Lying on our backs next to our packs, tucked low into the rocks but in the sun, we were warm. We took a long break. This closeness drew our eyes to the tiny treasures here.

We did have to take a look around though. The ridges of the Sierra lined up to the west.

A pair of backpackers appeared in the distance, working their way up from the west.

The Inconsolable Range was our immediate backdrop to the east.

We started back down from Bishop Pass. A faint trail led to a overlook. Bishop Lakes, Saddlerock Lake, and Long Lake were laid out below us.

With these incredible vistas around us, we could have spent the rest of our lives here in awe.

Down by Bishop Lakes we found another snow survey shelter. This one looked more like what we are used to - an extra high door to use when the snow is deep. The Bishop Lake Snow Survey Station is done the old fashion way, once a month, manually, with live humans.

Ah................the Lady likes a circle. When hiking up in the morning we had seen the trail with the sign that read, "Chocolate Lake." And we can read maps. And we have done lots and lots of hiking in the mountains. We decided on a little cross country detour to reach the Chocolate Lakes. We left the trail and passed by all the Timberline Tarns. Visiting here alone would have made our trip.

It was an adventure. We climbed and then we dropped down to Ruwau Lake. We found sections of an old use trail. We climbed out of Ruwau's basin and reached a high pass.

We steeply dropped down to the first Chocolate Lake. We found sections of no longer maintained trail. We crossed the creek and traveled around the second Chocolate Lake. We crossed the creek again and hiked the length of a tarn. We found another section of trail. The drop down to Bull lake was steep on loose rock in thick willows. The trail at Bull Lake was more used and the lake had obvious campsites right at water's edge. But, "Would we rather be here or back at camp?" We were soon back at that intersection with the sign on the tree with an arrow, "Chocolate Lake."

The trail was quiet, only a few fellow hikers and backpackers shared the trail with us. This was most likely an over 20 mile day for us. We felt great, but tired. The trail finishes off above South Reservoir, showing hard evidence of our current severe drought.

Back at the truck, the boots were off, we changed into clean shirts, and headed down the road. It was around 6:30 pm, still lots of daylight. We didn't have a place secured to camp at for the night. Was this a mistake? The Fourth of July holiday was fast approaching. One of our primitive showers, dinner, a place to watch the sunset, a quiet night, restful sleep, a place to watch the sunrise, was this too much for the ski3pinners to ask for?

Continued in Part Five - Please Click Here

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